Saturday, November 21, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #15: On Not Cooking

The Friday after my birthday, I was on a short break at work. A question came unbidden: am I spiraling? The answer, of course, was no: I had spent most of the last week in total freefall. It was a strange moment; I’m usually hyperaware of when I’m doing poorly. But there it was. A week had passed and I hadn’t so much as used the rice cooker. I decided, of course, to lean in. I pulled my shelf out of the fridge and tossed the already-going-bad vegetables I had last bought. For the entire month of October I ate takeout, ordered pizza, or simply didn’t eat. The most I did at home was microwave canned food. I fucking hated it.

One of the things I have brought up a number of times in these posts is that I didn’t really start cooking until around two (maybe nearly three, at this point) years ago. It happened when I moved to San Francisco for a year and, for the first time, lived within reasonable walking distance of a grocery store (and worked from home at a job I really disliked, but which paid well). Immediately prior to that I had lived in Los Angeles for a couple years. I lived off of Carl’s Jr., 7-Eleven pizza, and Maggie’s, a really excellent breakfast sandwich spot in the Rampart (I even occasionally splurged on IHOP). Prior to that I was in Oakland, where I lived off breakfast burritos from a food truck near my job in Pleasanton and Pizza Man in Oakland. This month has consisted of a lot of bagel sandwiches from Bagel Street CafĂ© near my job in Berkeley and dubious Hot Pockets from the corner store.

The decision not to cook was an impulsive one, made in a state of bad mental health. It has had a deleterious effect on my mental health and my already complicated, and not exactly ordered, relationship to food. It has, more than regularly being misgendered by customers or service workers or folks outside of my inner circle, exacerbated dysphoria by putting me in a headspace I associate with pre-transition times. It has been a reminder of how easy it would be, despite how miserable, to give up; on myself and what I love doing, on my responsibilities to the people I live with, on everything except maintaining a bare minimum of life by making money and spending it to be alone.

Like I said, I’ve hated it. Even the supposed convenience has been a burden. Every time I look at Postmates or whichever delivery app I’ve decided might be worth a shot, I freeze. It’s too much. I order Domino’s online or simply don’t eat that night, convinced that if I go to sleep early enough I can tough it out.

I’m afraid, though, too. That I will have forgotten. Not the techniques, necessarily. Not how to make weird or good. But the joy of it, the rhythm, the ability to find what’s there and make it new and filling and share. I know that’s unlikely, even maybe impossible. That I don’t need to remember those rhythms in order to build them; that even the rhythms I had were constantly shifting and changing as they were building. That, in a real way, you can’t forget something like that because it’s never a memory, only a performance. A thing one does. But knowing and fearing are not mutually exclusive. What was it that Marx said? Heretofore philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point is to change it? You can have all the ideas in the world. They don’t, in and of themselves, mean shit when faced with the realities of anxiety and dysphoria and a broken history with food.

But then, what is this space for if not some measure of holding myself accountable? It’s certainly not the Big Ideas, left wing cooking blog I wanted it to be. I’d like it to be more than a flimsy pretext for having a tip jar, but that’s what it is most months. When I’m being generous to myself I think of it as a way to think about and through food differently, from novice eyes, a dead palate, and a passion for experimentation, community, and a ruthless criticism of everything existing.

Which isn’t to say it is all dysphoria and disorder, of course. Or, at least, that there aren’t things to be learned from there.

Most of the lessons are personal, of course; that my body will still accept that diet, that I am terrible at reaching out of my comfort zone in certain areas, that I do, in fact, still kind of love eating like shit. Or that as much as I can enjoy cleaning, it can sure produce resentment. Or that the whole Lent-style abstention thing is not really my deal.


I wrote the above on October 30th, early to work to eat breakfast and find a space to type. My coworker never showed up, so I worked alone all day, listening to World's End Girlfriend's discography while people browsed books and I told them I couldn't buy the ones they brought in. It is now November first, before opening. I am reading myself try desperately to pull a broad lesson out of an act of self-flagellation. It's super not going to happen.

I became obsessed, a week or so ago, with breaking my cooking fast by making sour patch kids. I've let that go. I think I will go home, at the end of the day, and make a pot of rice. Maybe I'll throw a little butter and dried thyme in the rice cooker and get really uneven results. Maybe I'll toast the rice ahead of time, to try something new. Either way, I will eat food I've made again, and it will not be revelatory. I'm excited.

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